Iconic Actor Purposefully Bombed His Joker Audition; This is How We Got Jack Nicholson Instead
There may be arguments about who is the most iconic comic book superhero, on the big screen and in general, but things are much clearer about the most iconic comic book villain.
Almost everybody would say that the Joker takes the title. The fact that Heath Ledger won an Oscar for his performance as the Joker, and Joaquin Phoenix got nominated for the same – after playing the Joker in the Joker's own movie, no less – confirms this assessment.
But however great Ledger and Phoenix were in playing the role, to those old enough Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman ( 1989) still remains the definitive version of the character and the yardstick by which all other Jokers in cinema are measured.
But did you know that another renowned actor was originally invited to play the role? Namely, John Lithgow. Seeing his later work, such as Trinity Killer in "Dexter", he probably had what it takes to play Joker.
And he did not get the role, because he intentionally sabotaged himself, when invited to an audition with Tim Burton.
Back then, in late eighties, superhero movies were generally seen as low-profile and low-quality flicks, with little cultural impact – does anyone remember, say, Superman IV? In fact, Tim Burton's Batman was among the movies that helped to break the trend, and bring superheroes into cinematic mainstream.
As Lithgow said in an interview with Vulture much later,
"I have never told anyone this story, but I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded. I didn't realize it was such a big deal. About a week later I heard they were going after Robin Williams and Jack Nicholson."
Lithgow's reasons were quite understandable for someone who did not expect the Batman movie to become a huge success it was.
"I was doing 'M. Butterfly' on Broadway and it was an exhausting show. It would have meant leaving that show and going right into a movie, and I said, 'I just don't think I can'. How about that for stupid? Actors are not necessarily smart people."
Well, in the end we got the excellent performance by Jack Nicholson, the movie was a big success, and John Lithgow still enjoyed a busy career, though as it appears, he still regrets missing that chance.